Last year, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center sent several letters (May 14, 2009 and May 29, 2009) and eventually filed a complaint in state court over concerns about increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the city of Ann Arbor’s massive new parking structure. The city had completely ignored the potential environmental impacts from building more parking supply, which would likely lead to more cars, more congestion, more air pollution, and more greenhouse gas emissions. We had also had concerns about the lack of public process and compliance with the Michigan Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act. For a full background on the issue, see my previous post from August 2009.
As we hoped, we were eventually able to resolve our concerns and reach a mutually agreeable settlement with Ann Arbor. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city will conduct an environmental study of the new parking structure, looking specifically at parking supply and demand, impact on vehicle miles traveled in the city, and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Ann Arbor will also consider measures to mitigate any increased greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to meet the city’s resolution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% from 2000 levels by 2015. The settlement agreement also contains other provisions regarding public participation and open government, and resolves (at least for now) the concerns of neighboring businesses and property owners regarding construction impacts. Local media coverage in The Ann Arbor Chronicle includes a detailed analysis of the settlement agreement with the full back story, and AnnArbor.com has additional coverage.
In agreeing to conduct an environmental study of the impact of adding parking supply on greenhouse gas emissions, Ann Arbor is following the trend of the federal government and other states. Last month, the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued draft guidance on “Consideration of the Effects of Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The guidance was proposed as part of an effort to modernize implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its environmental review mandate. It directs federal agencies to consider the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions in any agency decision with “meaningful” GHG emissions, using a suggested threshold of 25,000 tons (the same threshold proposed for regulation under the Clean Air Act). Other states, most notably California, are also beginning to require consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental review of public decisions involving transportation and land use planning (Marten Law has an exceptionally thorough recent article covering these developments at the federal and state levels). Taking an honest look at the greenhouse gas emission impacts of government decisions is a critical first step to eventually making better, more informed environmental and infrastructure decisions, and I’m glad the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center could help advance this effort through our work in Ann Arbor.
Update: Ryan Stanton of AnnArbor.com has a nice interview on the project and litigation.